Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Heart Rate, Pulse Rapid, Greater than 48 BPM at Rest (in Adult)

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

    Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

    • If your horse seems otherwise normal but you are convinced there is a problem.

    A horse’s heart rate or pulse rate is one of the most useful physical parameters when assessing a horse’s general health. It becomes elevated with virtually all body-wide (systemic) illnesses, especially those causing lowered blood pressure or pain.

    Horses experiencing abdominal pain (colic), low blood pressure, blood loss, primary heart problems, and poor respiratory gas exchange all might exhibit elevated heart rates. Importantly, though, heart rate also increases drastically with stress, exercise or excitement. For that reason, it is critical that the examiner always double check an elevated heart rate when the horse is relaxed. Certain medications will also cause a drastic rise in heart rate.

    A normal heart rate or pulse for average adult horses at rest ranges from 28 to 44 beats per minute (bpm). Heart rates exceeding 50 bpm in an otherwise normal seeming horse may indicate a problem and should prompt you to call your vet to discuss your findings. In a normal horse, the heart rate should be the same as the pulse rate. Smaller horses and foals usually have more rapid heart rates.


    Know what your horse’s normal heart rate is in health, so that you have a baseline to compare to when you suspect a problem. Double check the rate when the horse is relaxed. In a recently exercised horse, the length of time it takes for heart rate to return to baseline depends to a great extent on fitness.

    In most cases, there are other primary signs that prompted a horse owner to take the heart rate in the first place. The other signs may be more indicative of the nature of disease. Heart rate elevation is a common finding in many conditions but can be a valuable indicator of the severity of illness.


    Your vet uses careful assessment of heart rhythm and other indicators of circulatory health to assess the nature of the elevated heart rate. In combination with other physical findings, your vet can usually get a general sense of the body systems involved.

    Identify or Rule-Out Possible CausesDIAGNOSES

    Acute Systemic Disease, Generally
    Stress or Anxiety, Generally
    Small Intestinal Strangulation, Strangulation by a Pedunculated Lipoma
    Anhidrosis, Dry Coat Syndrome
    Blood Loss or Acute Hemorrhage, Generally
    Ruptured Stomach or Intestine
    Endotoxemia, Endotoxic Shock
    Laminitis, Acute
    Liver Disease, Acute Hepatitis
    Kidney Failure, Acute Renal Failure
    Dehydration, Generally
    Colic, Undiagnosed Conditions Causing
    Large Colon Mechanical Obstruction, Generally
    Colic, Simple Intestinal Gas or Spasm
    Large Colon Volvulus or Torsion
    Clostridial Muscle & Fascia Infection (Myonecrosis)
    Monensin Toxicity
    Conditions Affecting Red Blood Cells, Generally
    Equine Infectious Anemia, EIA
    Exhausted Horse Syndrome, EHS
    Salmonella Colitis (in Growing Foal or Adult)
    Purpura Hemorrhagica, PH
    Heat Exhaustion or Stroke
    Viral Upper Respiratory Tract Infections, Generally
    Colic, Sand Accumulation or Impaction
    Tying-Up, Recurrent Exertional Rhabdomyolysis
    Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, ARDS
    Metritis, After Foaling
    Clostridial, Clostridium Colitis (in Adult)
    Ruptured Uterine Artery, Post-Partum Hemorrhage
    Pneumonia, Pleuropneumonia & Pleuritis, Generally
    Plant or Weed Toxicity, Generally
    Enteritis, Acute
    Blister Beetle Toxicity
    Large Colon Impaction, Pelvic Flexure Impaction
    Gastrocnemius Rupture
    Pulmonary Edema
    Carbohydrate or Grain Overload
    Mitral Valve Regurgitation Insufficiency
    Red Maple Leaf Toxicosis
    Cardiac (Heart) Valvular Disease
    Large Colon Dysfunction, Generally
    Congestive Heart Failure, CHF
    Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia
    Right Dorsal Colitis
    Small Colon Impaction
    Ruptured Aorta, Ruptured Aortic Aneurysm
    Infarcted Intestine or Colon
    Equine Piroplasmosis, EP
    Fractured or Broken Ribs (in Adult)
    Synchronous Diaphragmatic Flutters, SDF
    Dislocated Hip, Coxo-Femoral Luxation
    Navicular Bursa Penetrated by Foreign Body
    Black Locust Tree Toxicity
    Castorbean or Ricin Toxicity
    White Snakeroot Toxicity
    Johnson or Sudan Grass Toxicity
    Onion Toxicity
    African Horse Sickness, AHS
    Nitrate Toxicity From Plants or Fertilizer
    Hendra Virus, HeV
    Jimsonweed Toxicity
    Poisonous Snake Bite, Rattlesnake or Pit Viper
    Oleander Toxicity
    Rodenticide Toxicity, Generally
    Iron Deficiency, Caused by Anemia Caused
    Larkspur, Monkshood Toxicity

    POSSIBLE TREATMENTS or TherapiesTo Lessen or Resolve the Sign

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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